Catholic club puts faith above Van­der­bilt pol­icy

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY DANIEL JACK­SON

A Chris­tian stu­dent group said this week that it will not ap­ply to be rec­og­nized as an of­fi­cial club at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity be­cause of the school pol­icy mak­ing it manda­tory that it ac­cept non­be­liev­ers as mem­bers — or even of­fi­cers — of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Van­der­bilt Catholic, a group for Catholic stu­dents at the pri­vate Nashville, Tenn., school, con­firmed that the club will not rereg­is­ter as an of­fi­cial stu­dent or­ga­ni­za­tion be­cause of the pol­icy, but will op­er­ate as an in­de­pen­dent, off-cam­pus min­istry.

Last fall, Van­der­bilt placed four Chris­tian con­ser­va­tive groups on “pro­vi­sional sta­tus” be­cause they vi­o­lated the school’s nondis­crim­i­na­tion pol­icy, which holds that all stu­dents be el­i­gi­ble to join any sanc­tioned club.

Van­der­bilt Catholic was not one of the groups, but the club’s lead­ers could see the writ­ing on the wall.

“Our pur­pose has al­ways been to share the Gospel and proudly to pro­claim our Catholic faith,” said the Rev. John Sims Baker, the group’s chap­lain. “What other rea­son could there be for a Catholic or­ga­ni­za­tion at Van­der­bilt? How can we say it is not im­por­tant that a Catholic lead a Catholic or­ga­ni­za­tion?”

Van­der­bilt’s nondis­crim­i­na­tion pol­icy states that clubs can­not bar stu­dents from join­ing or hold­ing of­fice on the ba­sis of cri­te­ria such as race, gen­der or — most con­tro­ver­sially — be­lief.

The school re-eval­u­ated its poli­cies af­ter a Chris­tian fra­ter­nity ex­pelled a mem­ber be­cause he was gay.

Chan­cel­lor Ni­cholas Zep­pos de­fended the pol­icy in a Jan­uary let­ter to the col­lege com­mu­nity: “At Van­der­bilt, we firmly be­lieve that dis­crim­i­na­tion is wrong. In­di­vid­u­als must be judged as in­di­vid­u­als, not mem­bers of groups.”

Van­der­bilt Catholic de­cided that ad­her­ing to the univer­sity’s new pol­icy would vi­o­late the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Catholic be­liefs.

“They have stated their po­si­tion straight­for­wardly, and we have, too,” Fa­ther Baker said.

Fa­ther Baker said the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the club and the school is still am­i­ca­ble, and he is meet­ing with the col­lege to dis­cuss how his group will con­tinue to in­ter­act with the cam­pus.

“We still want to serve the Catholic stu­dents at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity,” he said.

Other Chris­tian groups are con­sid­er­ing their op­tions.

Grad­u­ate Chris­tian Fel­low­ship, a min­istry for grad­u­ate stu­dents that fo­cuses on in­te­grat­ing faith, stud­ies and prac­tice, is weigh­ing whether it can con­tinue as an of­fi­cial, univer­sity-sanc­tioned or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“At this point, it would be pre­ma­ture to say for sure,” said Tish War­ren, a leader of the group.

Not all mem­bers of the group are Chris­tian, she said, but lead­ers are ex­pected to set the ex­am­ple with prayer, Bi­bles stud­ies and worship.

Some­one who does not be­lieve in Chris­tian doc­trine could not ef­fec­tively lead those ac­tiv­i­ties, she said.

“We aren’t go­ing to com­pro­mise on our core re­li­gious iden­tity,” she said.

Van­der­bilt of­fi­cials have de­fended the nondis­crim­i­na­tion pol­icy by cit­ing a 2010 Supreme Court decision up­hold­ing a sim­i­lar nondis­crim­i­na­tion pol­icy for school-sub­si­dized stu­dent clubs at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia’s Hast­ings Col­lege of Law.

But Van­der­bilt law pro­fes­sor Carol Swain said the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion goes be­yond the Supreme Court rul­ing and is be­ing en­forced un­fairly.

Univer­sity of­fi­cials, she said, have made ex­cep­tions for tra­di­tional fra­ter­ni­ties and soror­i­ties while ap­ply­ing the pol­icy to con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian groups not af­fil­i­ated with a de­nom­i­na­tion.

Ms. Swain, also an ad­viser to the Chris­tian Le­gal So­ci­ety, one of the Chris­tian groups at odds with the col­lege, said she ex­pects other groups, like Van­der­bilt Catholic, will de­cide to duck the rules and go un­sanc­tioned by the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The clubs have un­til April 16 to ap­ply.

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